Updates: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – reactions in Estonia

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Estonian World brings you the latest reactions from Estonia – one of the few NATO member states that is bordering with Russia. For updates from 2022, please see a separate article.

24 March 2023 – Europe to send Ukraine a million rounds over a year

Today in Brussels at the Foreign Affairs Council, the foreign and defence ministers of the European Union reached agreement on the joint procurement of one million 155 mm calibre rounds of ammunition for Ukraine. According to Estonian defence minister, Hanno Pevkur, the aim of the initiative from Estonia is to provide Ukraine urgently needed military aid as fast as possible and increase the European defence industry’s manufacturing capabilities.

“Above all, Ukraine needs ammunition right now and today we put the clear objective in writing – to send at least one million 155 mm calibre rounds of ammunition to Ukraine within the next 12 months,” Pevkur said.

155 mm artillery ammunition for NATO standard howitzers. Photo by Rheinmetall.

16 March 2023 – Estonia to send sniper weapons and special equipment to Ukraine

Estonia is planning to send another package of military assistance to Ukraine, this time consisting of, among other things, sniper weapons and special forces equipment. Estonia’s newest assistance package includes semi-automatic rifles, sniper rifles, sights, binoculars, ammunition, individual and special equipment, patrol boats and thermal cameras. In addition, medical equipment is being donated. The total value of the military aid is €494,300.

16 March 2023 – Ukrainian troops to receive a mobile sauna and a laundry unit made in Estonia

A mobile sauna and laundry unit built for the front line fighting units of Ukraine will start its journey to Ukraine from Tartu on Friday and is slated to be handed over near Kyiv on 20 March, BNS reported. The complex provides facilities for 50-60 troops to take a sauna and wash themselves, plus get 50 sets of uniforms laundered, in one day, spokespeople for the Estonian Defence League volunteer corps said.

The sauna complex will serve a battalion of Crimean Tatar volunteers fighting the invasion in Ukraine. At their request, the complex consists of two containers transported by a single vehicle. This allows for a faster response and more effective redeployment.

The sauna complex sent to Ukrainian soldiers consists of two containers transported by a single vehicle.

14 March 2022 – The first Estonian dies in Ukraine

On 7 March, Estonian Ivo Jurak was killed in Ukraine, the first Estonian to die in the war. Jurak had been fighting in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion since last autumn. He was killed near Bakhmut in Russian artillery fire.

Ivo Jurak. Photo by Kärt Liekis/Estonian Defence Forces.

9 March 2023 – Support for the intake of Ukrainian refugees has fallen in Estonia

According to a survey commissioned by the Estonian Government Office, support for the intake of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia has fallen to its lowest level in the last 12 months – 67% (76% of Estonians and 48% of other nationalities).

Allied military assistance for Ukraine is supported by 66% of the population (85% of Estonians, 27% of other nationalities), while 80% support the provision of humanitarian assistance (88% of Estonians, 64% of other nationalities).

People’s sense of security has also fallen – just 47% feel that Estonia can consider itself safe at present, with 46% of Estonians and 50% of other nationalities feeling this way.

9 March 2023 – Photo exhibition with stories of Ukrainian war refugees opens in Tallinn 

On Friday, 10 March, the photo exhibition “I choose life” will open on Tallinn’s Freedom Square, depicting Ukrainians who fled to Estonia from the war and their stories. The exhibition will be open until 25 March.

Natalia Fomina, a Ukrainian photographer who took part in the photo project, said that for her the project has been an inspiring experience. “I heard a lot of interesting stories and everyone has their own pains and experiences. People don’t stand still when they are in another country, they evolve, improve, learn the language, expand their field of activity, acquire new professions. I believe that Ukrainians inspire other nations with their courage and faith in a better future,” she said in a statement.

A Ukrainian refugee in Estonia. Photo by Natalia Fomina.
A Ukrainian refugee in Estonia. Photo by Yuliia Dvornivhenko.

24 February 2022 – Estonia’s central bank supports Ukraine from a coin sale

Eesti Pank, Estonia’s central bank, has transferred a further 140,550 euros to the Ukrainian central bank – a money that was received from sales of the coin card holding the two-euro coin dedicated to Ukraine. Since July 2022, a little over 35,000 of the coin cards have been sold and in total, the Bank of Estonia has sent over 495,000 euros to Ukraine.

The coin card has been bought in 53 different countries – mostly in Estonia, Germany, France, Latvia, Spain, Slovakia, Ukraine, Finland, the US and Italy. The specially dedicated coin was designed by a young Ukrainian refugee studying at the Estonian Academy of Arts, Daria Titova, and the coin card was designed by Vladimir Taiger.

Each coin card costs 18 euros and can be bought from the Omniva online store.

The two-euro coin card dedicated to Ukraine, issued by the central bank of Estonia. Photo by the Bank of Estonia.
Estonia's €2 coins with a special design dedicated to Ukraine and freedom. Screenshot from the website of the Bank of Estonia.
Estonia’s €2 coins with a special design dedicated to Ukraine and freedom. Photo by the Bank of Estonia.

23 February 2023 – Kallas: Estonia’s defense starts from Ukraine

Estonia’s defence “starts from Ukraine”, the country’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said in an interview with AFP on the eve of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “We see clearly that our defense right now starts also from Ukraine because Ukraine is fighting with the same threat… So as long as they are fighting there, they are weakening the same enemy as we have,” she said, according to BNS.

Asked about Estonia’s security concerns, Kallas stressed the need to “totally discredit the tool of aggression”. “If this aggression pays off in Ukraine, then it serves as an invitation to use it elsewhere,” Kallas said. “Because if it is so that you… go attack another country, another sovereign country, and then you walk away with more territories, more land, more natural resources, then the signal to… all the aggressors, or would-be aggressors, in the world, is that this pays off, use it.”

Kaja Kallas in Brussels, 20 October 2022. Photo by the Stenbock House.

22 February 2022 – A shortage of teachers is limiting study opportunities for Ukrainian children

According to the report, “Ukrainian Children in the Estonian Education System”, published by the Foresight Centre, the Estonian schools and kindergartens are generally managing well the extra workload that came with the Ukrainian refugee students, but the shortage of teachers and support specialists is putting schools in a very unequal position when it comes to Ukrainian children.

In the opinion of the schools that have accepted Ukrainian children, the Ukrainian pupils have adapted well or fairly well.

“The largest number of Ukrainian refugee children have come to the municipalities where the number of pupils per teacher was already the highest, which is making the problem of teacher shortage and overburden more acute. The main challenges for teachers are the language barrier and teaching in bilingual classrooms, the big differences between the Estonian and Ukrainian curricula, and helping the Ukrainian students catch up with others,” Eneli Kindsiko, an expert of the Foresight Centre, a think tank at the Estonian parliament, said in a statement.

The workload of Estonian teachers is eased by Ukrainian education workers and war refugee volunteers, who are helping translate teaching materials and give lessons or act as support persons for children – 104 war refugees have taken up work in the schools of Estonia.

In mid-February, 8,463 Ukrainian children were studying in the educational institutions of Estonia. Nearly half, or 45.5% of Ukrainian children in Estonia go to school in Tallinn, followed by Tartu (9.9%) and Pärnu (4.5%).

63% of Ukrainian children are studying in Estonian. “However, it should be noted that even if the children are going to schools where Estonian is the language of instruction, they may still receive instruction in Russian or Ukrainian to some extent, and a large proportion of pupils are studying via the language immersion method,” Kindsiko said.

The experience perceived by teachers and heads of school so far has confirmed that the easiest way to integrate Ukrainian children into the education system is in pre-school education, that is, at a younger age. The more complex the content of a subject becomes, the more difficult it is to participate in the studies in the Estonian language without having a basic level of language skills. However, the majority of the children who have arrived from Ukraine are of a basic education age (65%), and 24% of all war refugee children that have arrived in Estonia are in pre-school education.

A Tallink ferry hosts over 1,500 Ukrainian refugees, approximately 40 per cent of them children; photo by Andrea Forlani.

21 February 2023 – Estonia joins 34 states in pledge to support a ban on Russia and Belarus in international sports events

The Estonian culture minister, Piret Hartman, has joined a joint statement by sports ministers and senior representatives of 34 states stressing that the full return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to international sports is in the hands of the said aggressor states and depends on them ending the war they have started, BNS reported.

The joint statement says the situation on the ground in Ukraine has only worsened since February 2022. The ministers said they firmly believed that, given there has been no change in the situation regarding the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and as an imperative for fairness and solidarity towards the Ukrainian athletes whose facilities have been destroyed and who have had to leave their country, or stay to fight for the defence of Ukraine in which very many have lost their lives, there is no practical reason to move away from the exclusion regime for Russian and Belarusian athletes.

“Through their choices, action and ongoing invasion, Russia broke the Olympic Truce that has been continuously supported by the United Nations General Assembly since 1993,” they said, according to BNS.

“Russia’s aggression and crimes continue in the heart of Europe in Ukraine. We have clearly expressed our position with like-minded countries already at the start of the war that Russian and Belarusian athletes have no place at the starting line together with our athletes. Estonia’s position has not changed in this regard. We must continuously do everything we can to prevent the athletes of aggressor states from returning to the Olympic Games,” Hartman said.

Tallinn Music Week’s founder Helen Sildna (left) with the Estonian culture minister Piret Hartman. Photo by Andrea Forlani.

17 February 2023 – Kallas: Lasting peace possible only when Russia has been pushed out

The Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said in meetings at the Munich Security Conference that lasting peace in Europe is only possible when Russia is finally pushed out, when Russia’s crimes have been punished and when grey areas in European security become a thing of the past. “Our unity over the past year has been unwavering. There is no sign that Russia will stop its war of conquest. Hardships will continue, and it is all the more important that we keep our united front.” 

According to her, the focus at the moment is to turn the situation on the battlefield in favour of Ukraine. Kallas said all allies must review their stockpiles and EU member states should find a quick way to jointly procure ammunition for Ukraine. “We want to jointly procure one million artillery shells for Ukraine. This could cost approximately €4 billion. It would contribute to Ukraine’s success on the battlefield and would also strengthen the European defence industry and increase its production capacity.”

From left, the Lithuanian president, Gitanas Nausėda, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the Latvian president, Egils Levits, and the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas. Photo by the Estonian government.
From left, the Lithuanian president, Gitanas Nausėda, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the Latvian president, Egils Levits, and the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas. Photo by the Estonian government.

17 February 2023 – Reinsalu: Ukraine’s future must be in NATO

The Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said in meetings at the Munich Security Conference in Germany that Ukraine must be given a clear and straightforward roadmap to NATO at the summit of the alliance. He also said Ukraine needed weapons and ammunitions in particular now to protect the security of Ukraine and Europe, and for greater efficiency, the European Union could provide them via a joint procurement.

Reinsalu also talked about holding Russia accountable for the crimes committed in Ukraine. “A country that has committed and denied genocide cannot be allowed to repeat its crimes in the country where it has already committed them.”

15 February 2023 – Ninety-four MPs draft a statement in support of Ukrainians

Today, 94 members of the Estonian parliament submitted a draft statement to mark the passing of a year from the beginning of the full-scale military aggression by Russia in Ukraine and to show their respect for the heroic people of Ukraine who are waging a selfless fight.

According to the statement, the parliament condemns the Russian Federation’s ongoing military aggression and expresses deep sympathy to the Ukrainian people whose close ones have fallen in the battles with the powerful aggressor or suffered in the genocide committed against the peaceful population. 

“The bravery of the Ukrainian people obliges the countries respecting democratic values to unity and continued cooperation for the victory of Ukraine. The parliament calls on the international community to support Ukraine militarily, politically and economically more decisively than before in order to achieve this goal more quickly,” the draft statement says.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the Estonian parliament on 13 April 2022. Photo by Jürgen Randma.

14 February 2023 – Reinsalu: Estonia’s foreign policy focuses on Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat

The Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said in a foreign policy speech at the country’s parliament that Estonia’s foreign policy focuses on Ukraine’s victory and Russia’s defeat. “We have provided large calibre and modern weapons. Providing weapons is central and Estonia has been very visible in this regard. Estonia’s military aid to Ukraine has reached 1% of Estonia’s GDP. As early as last November, I called on NATO allies to follow Estonia’s example and I will continue to do so. We must support Ukraine with heavy weaponry. This includes fighter aircraft,” Reinsalu said.

He also underlined that Russia’s political and military leadership that has launched a war of aggression against Ukraine must be brought to justice, including the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, himself. “We are supporting Ukraine’s efforts to establish a trans-regional international special tribunal. The first step is opening an office of a temporary prosecutor in The Hague, which would be in charge of collecting and preserving evidence of crimes of aggression,” he said.

9 February – Estonian drones join Ukraine’s “drone army”

The first nine drones provided by Estonian businesses and residents have joined Ukraine’s “army of drones”, a campaign that aims to procure thousands of drones to monitor the frontline in Ukraine and provide an effective response to Russian attacks; the next 10 drones are on their way to Ukraine.

Jaanika Merilo and Jaak Ennuste cofounded Herojam Slava, an Estonian NGO that organises the donation of drones to Ukraine. Photo by NGO Herojam Slava.

1 February 2023 – Estonia summons the Iranian ambassador over Ukraine

The Estonian foreign ministry today summoned the ambassador of Iran to express strong condemnation about Iran’s support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine and the wide-spread human rights violations in Iran. “Estonia unequivocally condemns any support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine, including Iran’s decision to supply Russia with combat drones. The use of combat drones has caused numerous civilian casualties and extensive damage to Ukraine’s infrastructure,” the Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said.

“Estonia calls on the government of Iran to completely end all support for this unjustified and unprovoked aggression. Additionally, Estonia considers the repressive and violent methods of Iranian authorities in suppressing protests in the country unacceptable. The protection of human rights is the immutable responsibility of all governments of UN member states. We condemn the executions and the wave of violence against Iranian citizens and residents, which has led to hundreds of deaths.”

29 January 2023 – Reinsalu: Many more restrictions need to be applied to Russia

The Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, believes that in addition to Russian nuclear energy, restrictions should also be placed on Russian banks and the media, as well as the gold and metals business, BNS reports.

“Estonia has submitted in the past and will continue to demand the imposition of sanctions on Russian nuclear energy. We also talked about this goal with our Polish-Baltic colleagues this week. Furthermore, a complete ban on Russian banks in the SWIFT system, Russian propaganda channels, the business of the gold industry and metal industry is necessary,” Reinsalu said.

23 January 2023 – Russia expels the Estonian ambassador

The Estonian ambassador to Moscow, Margus Laidre has been told to leave Russia on 7 February, the Russian foreign ministry said on 23 January; Estonia said it will not back down on the principle of parity, which means the ambassador of Russia must also leave Estonia on the same date.

“In recent years, the Estonian leadership has been deliberately destroying relations with Russia. With its full russophobia and incitement of hatred against our country, Tallinn has risen to a new level in international politics,” the Russian ministry said in a statement.

The Estonian embassy in Moscow, Russia.

22 January 2023 – Around 100 HIV-positive Ukrainian refugees receive treatment in Estonia

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, tens of thousands of refugees have wound up in Estonia, around 100 of whom are receiving treatment here for HIV, BNS reports. Most had already been receiving treatment in Ukraine and it was crucial that they not run out of pills.

“Once it’s begun, the person shouldn’t stop treatment even for a day,” Latsin Alijev, chairman of the board of the Estonian Network of People Living with HIV and support person, said. “Medication must be available, so that the person doesn’t develop resistance if they suddenly stop taking them.”

19 January 2023 – Estonia’s military support will increase to more than one per cent of GDP

The Estonian government will provide Ukraine with another military aid package, including remote fire and anti-tank weapons as well as ammunition worth a total of €113 million. Estonia’s military assistance to Ukraine will increase to 370 million euros, or slightly more than one per cent of Estonia’s gross domestic product.

“If Ukraine fell, freedom would also be in danger in other parts of the world. By helping Ukraine to defend its independence, we are defending the right to freedom and democracy of all countries, including Estonia,” the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, said in a statement, adding that Ukraine has asked for this help from Estonia directly.

Estonia is applying for funds from the European Peace Facility for the replacement of equipment.

The first Javelin anti-tank missiles, donated by Estonia, arrived in Ukraine on 18 February 2022. Photo by Estonian Defence Forces.

16 January 2023 – Foreign ministry: Ukraine’s victory is the security guarantee for all of Europe

Jonatan Vseviov, the secretary-general of the Estonian foreign ministry, was on a visit to Ukraine last week to discuss further cooperation to support Ukraine and continuing to raise the cost of the aggression for Russia. 

“Ukraine’s victory is the security guarantee of all of Europe: it determines the fate of not just Ukraine, but the future of Europe’s security architecture. Peace is ensured when Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are restored, and aggression as a political tool has been completely discredited,” Vseviov said.

He reaffirmed at his meetings that Estonia would continue its efforts to ensure military, economic and political support for Ukraine. “We will also concentrate on Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration and ensuring the legal accountability of Russia. We will not tire until the war has been won and those responsible for crimes have been brought to justice,” he said.

Jonatan Vseviov, the secretary-general of the Estonian foreign ministry, on a visit to Ukraine. Photo by the Estonian foreign ministry.
Jonatan Vseviov, the secretary-general of the Estonian foreign ministry, on a visit to Ukraine. Photo by the Estonian foreign ministry.

13 January 2023 – Ukrainian war refugees who arrive in Estonia can move to Finland

As Estonia is reaching its limit in receiving Ukrainian war refugees, after which it would struggle to offer all the necessary support services and assistance up to the required standards, Estonia and the Finnish government have decided to cooperate by offering some of the refugees the option to move on to Finland, BNS reported. In Finland, war refugees will be able to apply for temporary protection and are guaranteed the relevant support services.

The Estonian and Finnish ministries of the interior reached an agreement whereby Finland would receive up to 100 Ukrainian war refugees per week, if the refugees express their wish to do so.

An aerial view of Helsinki's South Harbour.  Photo by Henri Bergius, shared under the CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.
An aerial view of Helsinki’s South Harbour. Photo by Henri Bergius, shared under the CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

12 January 2023 – Russia: Estonia must understand its hostile activity will not go unanswered

According to Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, Russia finds Estonia to be one of the most hostile countries towards Russia and the country must be prepared that every action has its consequences, BNS reported.

“It has long been no secret to us that Estonia is one of the most hostile states towards Russia. Russophobia has been elevated to the level of an official doctrine. At the same time, they seemingly want once again to please their overseas curators. Estonia must understand that none of their hostile actions will go unanswered,” Zakharova said.

Maria Zakharova, a representative of the Russian foreign ministry. Photo by mid.ru, shared under the Creative Commons 4.0 licence.

11 January 2023 – Estonia reduces the number of Russian embassy staff

Estonia notified the ambassador of the Russian Federation of a decision according to which Russia must reduce the number of its staff by 1 February to eight diplomatic positions and 15 posted administrative, technical and service staff members, BNS reported. The aim of the decision is to reach parity in embassy staff, which means that the number of positions in the Russian and Estonian representations operating in capitals will be made equal.

“Estonia considers the principle of parity very important in our relations with Russia. In light of the fact that during the war of aggression, the staff of the Russian embassy is not engaged in advancing Estonian-Russian relations, it is our view that there are no grounds for the current size of the Russian embassy,” the Estonian foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said.

Women protest in front of the Russian embassy in Tallinn on 13 April 2022.

10 January 2023 – Estonian president to Zelensky: Your war is also our war

In a phone call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, the Estonian head of state, Alar Karis, reaffirmed Estonia’s continued comprehensive support to Ukraine to help the latter win the war, BNS reported. He promised that Estonia will raise awareness among its allies and partners about the importance of supplying the defending Ukrainian army with new weapons systems.

“Estonia will do everything it can to help Ukraine win the war. We will definitely continue to provide military aid to the greatest extent possible and the next military aid package is being approved by the government,” Karis said. “Strong international support must continue until Ukraine has liberated its territory. We must understand that Russia’s war of aggression doesn’t just jeopardise Ukraine, it jeopardises all of Europe. Your war is also our war.”

The Estonian president Alar Karis on a phone call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo by the Estonian President’s Office.

10 January 2023 – Tallinn sends two ambulances, medical equipment to Lviv

The city of Tallinn sent the Ukrainian city of Lviv an aid consignment consisting of two Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 319 ambulances with equipment belonging to Tallinn Ambulance, as well as medical equipment from the East Tallinn Central Hospital.

In addition to the two ambulances, Tallinn Ambulance also sent medical equipment to Lviv, such as aspirators, defibrillators, ECG machines and perfusers (devices for dosing and administering medicine) and scoop stretchers. The East Tallinn Central Hospital also donated defibrillators and other equipment in a total amount of 18 units, 12,000 FFP2 masks and pharmacy supplies, such as syringes, cannulas, infusion systems, wound plasters and dressings, antiseptics and so on.

Tallinn sending two ambulance vans to Ukraine. Photo by Aleksandr Guzhov.

9 January 2023 – The Integration Foundation to help war refugees stay connected with their culture

The Estonian Integration Foundation today opened an application round to support the organisation of Ukrainian language cultural events for young war refugees in cooperation with Ukrainian cultural societies, Estonian NGOs and cultural institutions, as well as the teaching of Ukrainian language and culture and the publication of children’s and youth literature in Ukrainian. The budget of the application round is €100,000 and up to €15,000 can be applied for in one application. More information is available on the Integration Foundation website.

8 January 2023 – A photo exhibition of Ukrainian war refugees to open

On 10 March, photo exhibition “I Choose Life”, depicting Ukrainians who fled to Estonia from the war and their stories, will open on Tallinn’s Freedom Square. It is a social and cultural project created by Ukrainian war refugee photographers. In addition to portraits of the refugees, the exhibition also tells their story: who they are, what their life was like in Ukraine, where they lived and who they worked for. It also answers questions about how they have adapted in Estonia, where they live and work now, and where and who they see themselves in five years’ time. 

Photo by Daria Prasko.
Photo by Daria Prasko.

4 January 2023 – Tallinn hands over 14 buses to Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region

Mihhail Kõlvart and Tanel Kiik, the mayor and deputy mayor of Tallinn, respectively, visited Ukraine today and handed over 14 diesel buses to the city of Zhytomyr – a city in the north of the western half of Ukraine and the administrative centre of Zhytomyr province. Tallinn’s city government also sent generators and other humanitarian aid.

In addition, Kõlvart and Kiik got acquainted with the Zhytomyr Invulnerability Point – a point of refuge, where residents can gather during power and heating cuts. The centre provides heating, light, cooking facilities, phone charging and, if necessary, overnight accommodation. The mayor of Tallinn said in a statement that “we can also learn from Zhytomyr in preparing for crises, such as the creation of service centres for residents and the organisation of local government work in times of crisis”.

The city of Tallinn donated buses to the city of Zhytomyr in Ukraine. Photo by the Tallinn city government.

For updates from 2022, please see a separate article.

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